Every winter, Denmark’s royal family celebrates the new year over the course of a few days, with festivities including a parade and banquet. But this year, the nation’s long-reigning Queen Margrethe used her New Year’s address to announce some bittersweet news. On live TV, the 83-year-old monarch surprised Danish viewers by announcing that she would abdicate the throne on January 14, bringing her nearly 52-year reign to an end, leaving the throne to her son, Crown Prince Frederik and his wife, Crown Princess Mary.
“It is my hope that the new King and Queen will be met with the same trust and devotion which have fallen to my lot,” she said. “They deserve it! Denmark deserves it!”
Margrethe became Denmark’s queen in 1972, and reigned alongside her husband Prince Henrik until his 2018 death. After the death of her third cousin, Queen Elizabeth II, in September 2022, Margrethe became Europe’s longest serving monarch and the world’s only serving queen regnant. In her speech, the queen said the back surgery she underwent last February made affected her decision to step down.
“Everything went well, thanks to the competent health personnel, who took care of me,” she said. “Inevitably, the operation gave cause to thoughts about the future—whether now would be an appropriate time to pass on the responsibility to the next generation.”
The surgery kept Margrethe out of the public eye for two months as she recovered. She made her return to royal work on her 83rd birthday last April, which she celebrated with a balcony appearance at the Amalienborg palace alongside her family, including her younger son Prince Joachim and his four children, Count Nikolai, Count Felix, Count Henrik, and Countess Athena. It was a show of togetherness for the family, which argued publicly when Margrethe made the decision to strip the four children of their princely titles in late 2022.
During Sunday’s event, Margrethe wore a brooch that referenced her late husband and her mother, Queen Ingrid, who died in 2000. According to jeweler Steven Stone, the diamond daisy brooch was originally commissioned in 1935 as a wedding gift for Ingrid, and Margrethe wore the brooch at her 1967 wedding to Henrik. It pays tribute to Denmark’s national flower and Ingrid’s childhood nickname.
In her speech, she said that the world will remember the year 2023 for the October 7th terrorist attack in Israel and the ongoing war in Gaza. “There are no winners, only losers,” she said. “Women and children have not opted for the war themselves, but they are paying the price. Innocent people are the first victims. Not only in the Middle East far from here, but also in Denmark.”
She also mentioned her grandson and heir, Prince Christian, who celebrated his 18th birthday in October with a gala that went viral after one clever guest engineered a Cinderella moment. Margrethe praised the speech that Christian delivered that night, lingering on a comment he made that promises Denmark dedication, but not perfection.
“He presented himself in a way that made all his family proud of him. He was surrounded by nice, excited, and happy young people from the entire kingdom, and he made a speech that commanded great respect. It made his grandmother proud,” she said. “Prince Christian said things as they were. It was not so common when I was young. Today, young people dare show that they can be insecure too. This openness is a strength which we others must admire, and from which we can learn.”
Listen to Vanity Fair’s DYNASTY podcast now.